Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed. Today we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and respecting my very bad cold by revisiting my 2022 interview with Flamenco artist and National Heritage Fellow Eva Enciñias.
Eva Enciñias: What we have been able to do, in Albuquerque we're in the community performing free in fiestas and baptisms and community functions. So it isn't just something that you go to the theater to see, but it's something that's all around you, and I believe that that's what we have here in in New Mexico and Albuquerque because of the way that the foundation has been built, really starting from my mother's influence of community, community, community.
Jo Reed: Eva Enciñias has devoted her life to flamenco as a performer, a teacher, and a presenter. As result, her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico is now one of the premier international centers of flamenco, putting its own cultural footprint on this most emotive of dances. Eva Enciñias came from a flamenco family and she has continued the family tradition-- teaching flamenco in her mother’s studio from the age of 14….where she discovered her dual passions: flamenco and teaching. Eva went on to begin her own dance company Ritmo Flamenco as she studied dance at the University of New Mexico where she went on to teach flamenco for 43 years--creating a concentration in the art form on both the undergraduate and graduate levels—the only accredited dance program of its kind internationally. Eva then founded the National Institute of Flamenco, which houses several programs, including a conservatory, a performing company, and the internationally acclaimed the Festival Flamenco Alburquerque—which just celebrated its 35th anniversary. Her aim was always to elevate flamenco while weaving it into the fabric of community-life. And she did this by dancing not just on stage but, as you heard at neighborhood celebrations of all kinds and by teaching generations not just the dance steps, but the history and significance of flamenco itself. And that was where I began my conversation with 2022 National Heritage Awardee Eva Enciñias.
Jo Reed: I'd like to begin with a very simple, very difficult question, and that is what is flamenco dance, and what makes flamenco flamenco?
Eva Enciñias: Oh, that's a wonderful question. Well, flamenco is a music, originally a music form that was developed, of course, in Spain. It's a mixture of various cultures because, of course, in Spain there was a lot of Moorish and Arabic and African influences. But, as well, with the extensive travels of Spaniards, of course, in different parts of the, the world, conquistando, conquering, they also had influences from many other cultures in many other parts of the world. So really flamenco is this incredible conglomeration of cultures and practices and conventions that have come together to create a new music form and that became very connected to the Gypsy culture in Spain, because a lot of the Gypsies were really developing this art form in a unique way, influencing with their very complex forms of music and dance. So it really did become very tied in Spain to the Gypsy community but, of course, it was developed in Spain, it's highly Spanish, it's highly Gypsy, but then it's also informed and influenced by many, many different cultures from around the world, and I believe that that's one of the reasons why such a broad audience of people can really connect to the art form because there are so many sounds, and through rhythm and tonality, as well as the physical expression of the art form that people can connect to, basically a song of oppressed, and marginalized people, and it became a very social outcry of people that had led very difficult lives. So I think that this is something that people connect to and relate to and want to know more about.
Jo Reed: It always struck me as a very emotional dance.
Eva Enciñias: Totally, and that's one of the reasons is that the earliest forms of flamenco cante were what they call the cante hondo, which was the deep song, and those songs were songs of death and oppression and loneliness and pain and fear, and so a lot of those original cantes, which had such an influence on the overall development of the art form, were very soulful and very personal, and so thus, the highly expressive art form.
Jo Reed: I also, and this is a little bit off track, but every time I've seen flamenco, probably more than any other dance there is such an eye contact between the dancer and the audience. Am I just making that up or is that really something that happens?
Eva Enciñias: No, no, I believe that that is true and, you know, whenever, as we do performances, people always ask, "Well, are the dancers telling the story that the singer is singing?" And I tell them no, there is no literal translation of what is going on between the cante and the baile, the singing and the dance, but its intention, and its expressive content is definitely inspired by and influenced by the cante. The cante is, in most worlds, considered the center of flamenco. So it's the dancers and the guitarists or other musicians opportunity and job to respond to the cante, and so that direct communication is going on constantly in flamenco, and I think that that's one of the things that encourages that very direct focus of the dancers, that there's a conversation, a dialogue going on, and so not only are they having that direct communication with the audience but as well with each other, and so it does have that urgency of expression that I believe affects that.
Jo Reed: I think urgency of expression is a great way to put it because that's what it feels like.
Eva Enciñias: Exactly.
Jo Reed: You're part of a flamenco family. So what is your flamenco family tree?
Eva Enciñias: Okay, well, that's a great question. My mother was a beautiful dancer, also did a great deal of cante, a great deal of singing. My mother's oldest brother, Antonio, was a self-taught musician and dancer. He traveled and lived in California for some time. He had quite a breadth of repertoire, of flamenco repertory, but not just flamenco, also other Spanish dance forms, which was very unusual in New Mexico to have that information. So he came back to his family here in Albuquerque; he shared what he had learned with all of his brothers and sisters. So by the time I was old enough to kind of know what was going on, so many people in my family danced, and I wasn't sure why, but I was luckily exposed to that art form through my mother. She was a beautiful dancer, she had an act that she did with her brother, Antonio, they traveled around the country and performed flamenco, other beautiful forms of dance as well. But I think that flamenco really kind of got a hold of my mother, and at the same time got a hold of me through studying with her. And in her studio, she had a studio in sort of the north valley area of Albuquerque, and she taught lots of different types of dance, ballet, and tap, and Mexican folk dance, and lots of the Spanish-related forms, Spanish classical and regional dances but she also taught flamenco, and flamenco just got a hold of me at a very, very early age. So in answer to your question, my mother was a dancer and singer, as was my uncle, and my aunts and uncles, consequently, but then I myself, my brother, and sister, all studied flamenco dance, I also later studied quite a bit of flamenco music, and I decided that that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My two children are both beautiful, professional flamenco artists, dancers, and I have three grandchildren that also are professional dancers.
Jo Reed: Wow. Was there much flamenco in in Albuquerque, or even in New Mexico when you were growing up? Or was your mother forging a path?
Eva Enciñias: No, there was not a lot of flamenco, there was a little bit in Santa Fe, and there were a couple of people in Albuquerque who were performing Spanish dances/some flamenco, but there was no school. My mother was really the one that started a school where you could actually study flamenco and other forms as well, and so it was really wonderful because I was so formed in that kind of mentality of this is something, this is a serious study of music and dance and, you know, I danced every day, I mean, it was really an incredible experience. So my mother was very much involved in introducing the school of Spanish dance and flamenco to this area, and then we also used to travel, I remember I was her assistant, and we traveled to other neighboring communities and teach classes in different parts of the state. And so she had her studio for many, many years, and a lot of people studied there, and I was fortunate to be in that environment. I just loved it. I mean, from as long as I can remember I knew that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was dance flamenco. And she encouraged me to be developing my skills as a teacher at the same time, so that was exciting for me, because I always love teaching.
Jo Reed: Well, you're absolutely leading me to my next question, so thank you very much. Teaching is pretty much as central to you as flamenco.
Eva Enciñias. Absolutely.
Jo Reed: And that was something that spoke to you right away, when you began teaching, you just loved it?
Eva Enciñias: It is. My mom was a wonderful teacher, she was a teacher, now as I see my kids and even my grandkids, they're all beautiful dancers, but we are all educators. That's really what, you know, it's interesting, we use the flamenco vocabulary to educate, but our total passion for all of us is educating people, and finding ways of reaching people with this incredibly dynamic art form that can be a little intimidating for a lot of people. Because of its high level of expression, you have to be, you know, it's not easy for people to kind of go in that direction, and so it's been a fascinating experience, not just for me, but for my children and my grandchildren to find ways of introducing this incredible art form to people in an authentic and effective way.
Jo Reed: You studied dance at the University of New Mexico. Tell me about that decision. Had you made a decision you were going to be a dancer?
Eva Enciñias: Yes, I did. I had made that decision, I think in my mind and my heart at a very early age. But because there wasn't a lot of flamenco outside of my mother's studio, when I graduated from high school I knew that I wanted to continue to dance, and specifically flamenco, but really I would have had to go to Spain, and I didn't really want to do that. I mean, I love my home, I love my family, I wanted to be close to them, I was very young. So I said, "Okay, well, I want to go to college, so they have a dance program at UNM. So let me apply for the dance program, and even though I won't be studying flamenco, I'll be learning more about dance, which will certainly inform my flamenco," and I was excited about that, and oh my gosh what a journey I had at UNM. I was just captivated by being able to study dance outside of my comfort zone, and I had fabulous teachers, and I had never done any contemporary dance, so that was a very new thing for me and, oh my gosh, I again fell in love with it, and I developed rather quickly because as I said I had a good strong foundation in dance. And so I developed some skills, and I got the opportunity to start performing pretty quickly. I danced in a number of choreographies of our faculty, and became a member of some of the contemporary dance companies that were here. While at the same time, I felt like I continued to develop my flamenco abilities, but it was kind of through a different lens, which was really interesting for me, and I don't know, it just sparked something, sparked a hunger for investigating movement on a greater scale, and it had a tremendous influence on my teaching, so it was exciting. That was one of the most incredible periods of my artistic life.
Jo Reed: Well, you formed your own company pretty early on--
Eva Enciñias: Ritmo Flamenco. Yes, I did, as actually pretty much along with me becoming a student at the university, I knew that I needed to keep nurturing my flamenco skills, and so I thought well, a great way to do that is to bring together musicians and dancers and start a company where I would have to direct the company, start to do some of my own choreography, and it would give me a chance to be performing. So we did that. My mother was the singer. We did regional performances, but most of it was right here in New Mexico, and we did some good work. I felt it was really an exciting time for me to experience choreography. Of course, at that time, it was being heavily influenced by these other forms of dance. So I was trying to marry these different styles and see what came from it, and some of it was fabulous, and some of it wasn't. But it was an incredible opportunity for me to grow on an artistic level. Then when they asked me to start teaching flamenco at UNM, ah, I had a very different kind of challenge to deal with, and so that took me on sort of another little journey where I had to figure out how do you teach an art form that would usually take, you know, be a long process of years and years of training? How do you how do you work in a four-year system. So that was an interesting challenge to have, and that took a lot of my time and energy. But again, I loved that part of the exploration and the experience, and a lot of trial and error, but I had a good time figuring it out and, you know, now we have a full-fledged flamenco program. So I learned a lot.
Jo Reed: Well, I know you, aside from teaching, exactly, created a concentration in flamenco that was really comprehensive, you really created a comprehensive program, and you've said to study flamenco you really need to immerse yourself in dance and music and history and culture.
Eva Enciñias: Absolutely.
Jo Reed: Yeah. Can you explain a little bit more about the importance of that? And how that might have surprised some people who were not perhaps expecting this.
Eva Enciñias: Totally, I mean, and it surprised me because it wasn't until I actually had the opportunity to share and start to teach a flamenco class in the university that I realized that in the study of flamenco it's very much culturally and socially based. And if you don't understand its lineage and its heritage, then you're learning movement for the sake of movement, and although that is not necessarily a bad thing, it isn't the intention behind flamenco. And so I started to realize that although the students were learning some great techniques and principles, and developing their stylistic approach to the art form, but there was something that was really missing. For one thing, I was just having a good old time taking a lot of conventional movement practices in flamenco, and combining them with very nontraditional use of the body because I was so excited about this exploration that I had going here with contemporary dance. So that was fabulous, I mean, it actually worked really well for a lot of the students because most of them had contemporary vocabulary. But what I was realizing is I was doing my students a bit of a disservice, because they weren't really learning the traditional conventions of flamenco, and that was my job to teach that. So I had to back up a little bit and say, you know, yes, I love this exploration, it's fabulous, and for my own choreography it's all great and fine and good, but in my role as a teacher of flamenco in a university, my role is to teach the authentic, traditional vocabulary and methods behind the art form. So I had to do some pretty big changes in the way that I was teaching flamenco at UNM. There was a curriculum that was needed to be able to really advance the students through this progression in an effective way, and so, you know, I mean, it was frustrating sometimes, it was scary sometimes, it was challenging. But again, I love flamenco and I loved education. So, and I had the forum and the format with which to be able to develop a curriculum that I felt was really working, and I thank the university for that because you don't always have that opportunity, and, yeah, you know, I mean I had a laboratory, basically, for decades, that I could really say, "Okay, that's working really well, but this part is not working quite well, so how can I reshape that?" And how wonderful to be able to have that opportunity, and it completely changed my life and my view of how can an art form like flamenco work in a university setting, which is a big challenge.
Jo Reed: As you said, the university was supportive, and that's great, but I wonder if there was also pushback.
Eva Enciñias: There was some. Most universities, most of them, have the ballet, contemporary, sometimes jazz is in their format. That is the way that these dance programs generally are, they're formed around those styles of dance. When flamenco started to be introduced, I don't think they had any idea what kind of community response was going to be developed through that art form. don't think any of us could, because we didn't know, we had never been in that kind of situation. So there was a lot of buy in from students, quite a bit, and so I think that pretty early on there was a little bit of what is it about this art form that is different, and why are people drawn to it? And I think it comes back to the earlier part of our conversation is that there's an emotional-- in content and intent-- in flamenco that captivates people. Whereas sometimes some other art forms can be a little austere and removed from who we are as people, whereas flamenco is more-- it's raw, it's real, and people love the experience of trying to find that. And so I think there was some pushback, and a lot of it was because the faculty at that time didn't really understand at all what the art form was about. They didn't understand how it was developed, they didn't understand why it practiced certain conventions, the non-spoken vocabulary that goes on between the musicians and the dancers, and how do you teach that, and why can't a flamenco dancer approach choreography in the same way that a contemporary dancer does? Just lots of things that, had they known more about flamenco, they would have understood more, but they were kind of reluctant to go there. But nevertheless, flamenco continued to gain presence and notoriety at a steady level and, I think maybe had they known where this was going to go, I don't know that they would have opened the door, you know? It's great, it's fantastic. I mean, people come to take advantage from all over the country, different parts of the world, to take advantage of the incredible flamenco concentration that we have at UNM now, we have a visiting guest line, we have our festival, they all study at the festival.
Jo Reed: And it's the only place in the world that offers this, correct?
Eva Enciñias: Yes. I mean, there's a university in Spain that has flamenco cante, and there are universities that have flamenco courses, but as a concentration of study where you get an undergraduate or a graduate degree, this is the only one.
Jo Reed: And that's you.
Eva Enciñias: Well, I had a lot to do with it. There were a lot of people that that really helped, flamenco artists, but as well UNM professors and the administration, there was a lot of work that went into making it happen. And, you know, I'm proud of the work that was done there, and it's been a real resource for the university, but as well for flamenco artists in general, New Mexican, American, Spanish, and the world of flamenco has benefited by this unique program.
Jo Reed: Yeah, well, and the festival is the Festival Flamenco Albuquerque now, though, it went through a couple of iterations of names.
Eva Enciñias: Exactly.
Jo Reed: But that brings me to the National Institute of Flamenco, because you're dancing, you're teaching at the university, and then you create the National Institute of Flamenco, which houses several programs, including the Festival Flamenco, a school, and a performance company, and many other programs.
Eva Enciñias: Yes.
Jo Reed: You're already, I would think, a very busy person.
Eva Enciñias: Yes, totally.
Jo Reed: What were you thinking? I don't mean like what were you thinking, but like--
Eva Enciñias: What were you thinking? Well, sometimes I think what was I thinking? But--
Jo Reed: What was the vision for the institute. Why did you think it important?
Eva Enciñias: Let me give you a little history on that. So the nonprofit that I created was actually for Ritmo Flamenco, for the performance company, because we needed to write grants and try to get support for that idea. But by the time I was teaching full time at UNM, and I was developing this festival, and it was going really well, The first many years of our festival it was all American artists that were living in different parts of the United States. I felt, okay, things are things are moving along nicely. but on the fifth anniversary I wanted to make a special celebration and invite a couple of Spanish artists. The university supported me through that experience, but then they told me after that, you know, they said, "The international aspect of this, if you're going to continue to go in that direction is.." At that time there were there weren't a lot of international Programs at the university, so they were a little nervous about how that was going to work, and so they said, "We want to be able to continue to support this festival and flamenco here at the university in every way that we can. We'll give you the studio space, we'll give you theater space, we'll support in every way that we can on an administrative level, but we don't want to be in charge of the finances." And I understood that, you know, I mean, I respected that, I said, "I get it." It starts to become a little a little precarious, I mean, because it was much more expensive, and that meant we had to broaden the audience. Albuquerque is a big, small town, you know, so it was not a place by itself to support an international festival, so this had to start going out to a larger audience. So I said, "Okay, well, what I'm going to do is I'm going to take that 501(c)(3), and I'm going to change its mission to become an umbrella organization that will support the festival." The institute could be the umbrella organization for Ritmo Flamenco and the festival. And for many years, for quite a few years, that was kind of what it was until 1999 when we realized, okay, so the university is a wonderful program, and it's incredible for our community, but we don't have anything in the community for people who aren't university students, and there was a lot of people who wanted to be able to study flamenco but weren't going to go to the university. So my children said, "Let's open a school," because they were already quite developed as teachers. And at the first thought of it I got a little dizzy and almost wanted to pass out because knowing it's not easy to run a private studio, and it takes a lot of time and energy. But I had a special interest in teaching children because since my mother's studio there had there had not been a formal place for children to study, and I know that flamenco really you need to start as a child. So I said, "Okay, well, we'll open a conservatory." But initially, the Institute which was at that time Institute de Flamenco was really-- its responsibility was the festival and Ritmo Flamenco, and it wasn't until 1999 that it started to grow these other programs, and those other programs have become very central and important to the flamenco community here in Albuquerque.
Jo Reed: And, of course, the festival has just had its 35th anniversary, so congratulations.
Eva Enciñias: Yeah, I can't believe it, right? Wow, how time flies.
Jo Reed: And it just needs to be said that the Festival Flamenco Albuquerque is one of the premier flamenco festivals in the entire world right now.
Eva Enciñias: It is, it is. It's actually we were acknowledged from the festival in Jerez, which is a very important flamenco festival, we were given an acknowledgement as the most important flamenco festival outside of Spain. We have actually been in existence, the festival has been a longer running festival than many of the festivals in Spain, and it's really quite, you know, it has a really good following, and both on the artistic level of the artists from Spain, as well as people from all over the world who come and take advantage of this particular festival. And, you know, it's interesting because I think that one of the most wonderful things about it is, obviously, we have these incredible performances and workshops and lectures, and all of these things that happen during the festival. But one of the unique things about it is that in this festival the artists that come, we have anywhere from 50 to 60 artists that come from Spain, they're together here for the whole festival. In Spain, what they do is they go in, and they bring in a company, and they perform, and then they go back to wherever city it is that they live in Spain. They don't stay for the entire festival. But here, the artists and the students and everybody is here for that entire 8 to 10 days. So everybody's there, and they're hanging out, and they're visiting with each other, and artists that maybe they all know each other but they rarely get to visit with each other. So it's kind of like a flamenco camp. The social dynamic of it is incredible.
Jo Reed: You know, it's been said you have woven flamenco into the culture of New Mexico, and Albuquerque certainly is now noted as a place, one of the places if you want to see flamenco.
Eva Enciñias: Absolutely. And you know, I mean, I really believe that the reason that that has happened, because there's good flamenco in lots of your main city centers, in L.A. and New York City--
Jo Reed: New York, that's what I thinking.
Eva Enciñias: Yeah, you know, there's some good flamenco in Chicago, there are pockets of flamenco in different parts of the United States. But I think that what we have done, what we have been able to do, is that kind of multi-tiered way of infusing flamenco education, from children to young adults, to college age students, to seniors, that we're in the community performing free-- free-- in fiestas and baptisms and community functions. So it isn't just something that you go to the theater to see, but it's something that's all around you, and I believe that that's what we have here in in New Mexico and Albuquerque because of the way that the foundation has been built, really starting from my mother's influence of community, community, community. And that's what I've always been about, it's very much about what my children are about, and my grandchildren as well. And that has been a tremendous resource for the development and access of flamenco in Albuquerque.
Jo Reed: When did you stop performing, and was that a difficult decision for you, or did it just make sense at the time?
Eva Enciñias: Hmm. When did I stop performing? Gosh. Okay, I would say it was probably in the mid to late 90s, and it was not a difficult thing for me. I think that by that time there were so many young, upcoming artists, my children being two of them. And I just felt my energies were more important in the studio because there were so many other people that were performing that were wonderful artists. So I was like, you know, really is that where my energy should be going? Or do I need to spend my energy in the studio creating opportunities for people to study? And that's where I felt my strength was, so that's what I did.
Jo Reed: And you stopped teaching at the university last year, although you continue to teach at the National Institute of Flamenco, and you're teaching, sometimes the grandchildren of children you've taught, which has to be really gratifying.
Eva Enciñias: Ah, that's so great, because I get people who studied with me at the university in my early years there, and now I'm teaching their grandchildren at the institute, at the conservatory. So that, to me, is just like so incredible because I’ll look at a child and say, "I know you," there's familiarity there, and then I'll look up and see the parent and say, "Oh, my God." I'll say, "Is this your child?" They say, "No, this is my grandchild." So I've been teaching long enough that I've taught three generations of people, and that's pretty cool. I love that.
Jo Reed: That is very cool.
Eva Enciñias: Yeah, I mean, it's really, really wonderful. And, you know, I always tell my students, the reality is, is I know the percentage of people that will continue to do this professionally is very, very small. But you need to jump into the deep end of the pool and have a realistic experience so that you can really find out what it means to study this art form, and it will be a part of your life forever, you'll never be the same. It'll inform you in the way that you raise your children, in the way that you approach your job, in the way that you function in your home and your family because it teaches principles that are so important, and discipline, and respect for tradition, and just endless number of things that will stay with you throughout your life, whether you continue to dance or not. And so that's why I believe that so many of these people that studied years and years and decades ago realize it's so important for their children and their grandchildren to have that experience because it's something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Jo Reed: That's a legacy.
Eva Enciñias: Yes, it is.
Jo Reed: You know, you have won so many awards, and I'm not going to list them all, but dance teacher of the year, an award from the King of Spain, and now a National Heritage Award which is the highest award in the United States for traditional artists. And I wonder what the Heritage Award means for you.
Eva Enciñias: Wow. When I was told that I was going to receive this award, the first thought that I had was thank you, Mama. We called my mother Mama, and I don't know that many days have gone by in my life when I haven't thanked my Lord for the presence of flamenco in my life because it had such a tremendous influence, obviously, I've spent my entire being doing it. It's given me such opportunities that otherwise I don't know that I ever would have had, and obviously has given me the opportunity to share this beautiful art form with thousands of people. I've spent my entire life as a dancer and a teacher, and I haven't had time to develop many other parts of who I am. But I've developed that part of who I am as fully as I think I have been able to, and to be given that acknowledgement which, as you say, is that I highest award that a traditional artist can receive in this country, how can you beat that? I mean, people will ask me, "Did you have any idea that it was going to go in this direction?" I had no idea. All I know is that I saw needs, and I tried to answer those needs as best I could, and then that created other needs that needed to be answered in another way, and then I would answer that as best I could. I don't know that I ever had an ultimate goal in my mind's eye ever. I just knew that there was a lot of work to be done, as I still do, and will continue to help as much as I possibly can until I can't anymore. But how wonderful to make the acknowledgement as a very young child that I wanted to be a dancer with everything that was in me, and then to love teaching so much, because there's a lot of beautiful dancers that don't really enjoy teaching that much, but I don't know which I love more because for me they're the same, and so my life has just been blessed. I mean, I've spent it doing what I love to do, and I still see students that I had 50 years ago, and I just can't imagine a better way of coming to the end of my career than having this acknowledgement, and I'm so grateful-- I'm so grateful to the NEA, I'm so grateful to my family, and I will honor this as it has honored me for the rest of my life and continue to do the best work that I possibly can in every way that I can.
Jo Reed: And I think that is a good place to leave it. Eva, thank you so much. And, again, so many congratulations for this well-deserved award. It really has been a pleasure to talk to you.
Eva Enciñias: Thank you so much.
Jo Reed: That was flamenco artist and 2022 National Heritage Fellow Eva Encinias. You can keep up with her and the work of the National Institute of Flamenco at nifnm.org. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps people to find us. Let us know what you think about the Art works podcast and suggest someone we should speak to by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed, Thanks for listening.